Many books come across my desk, sent by publishers with hopes that we will publish a review of them. When I first saw this short work, fewer than 100 pages, the title captured my attention and caused me to think about several churches that I recognize as dying a slow death.
Thom S. Rainer divides this work into two parts: chapters 1–11 provide the details of the autopsy; chapters 12–14 share hope and a way forward that can prevent churches from dying— if the issues are recognized and properly addressed in a timely fashion.
In the first part, Rainer analyzes 14 churches he recognizes as dead and shares ten common characteristics among them that contributed to their demise. The characteristics cover the general categories of lack of vision, misdirected budgeting and financial expenditures, and neglecting the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Concerning this third point, my attention was particularly arrested when Rainer writes, “Members of the dying churches really didn’t want growth unless that growth met their preferences and allowed them to remain comfortable” (44).
In the second part, Rainer posits that 10 percent of all churches are healthy. He then proceeds to address the other 90 percent that he claims have symptoms of sickness, are very sick, or are dying. The 12 ways to keep churches alive upon which he elaborates throughout the book “are more of a cry to God to intervene, and to create a willingness on the part of the church members to be obedient” (86).
The only two issues I had with the book were (1) what I deem to be an inaccurate exegesis of Matthew 28:19, where Rainer claims that the concept of going in the verse is the imperative and making disciples is, as he puts it, a “sub-command” (41); and (2) he writes from a congregational church model, not fully recognizing or acknowledging that not all churches are founded on such a model. However, the latter of these does not greatly bother me in that the principles articulated apply across the board, regardless of denomination or church structure.
I find Autopsy of a Deceased Church to be a book that pastors and their church boards should study with an eye toward evaluating their congregations and planning for the future.